The controversy over whether a large Next Home and Garden store can be built near Meadowhall will be reignited next week.
Arguments for and against the £10m project will be heard over four days at a public inquiry at Sheffield Town Hall starting on Tuesday. The stage is set for a high profile clash between the co-owners of Meadowhall, British Land, which wants to see the Next development on an adjoining site, and the council, which is keen to protect the fragile economy of the city centre. Already Next chief executive Lord Wolfson has raised the stakes by claiming that the council has effectively declared the city “closed for business” as a result of rejecting the application. Both the council and British Land have laid out their cases in advance of the hearing. The council says it has followed the planning rules in identifying a suitable site for Next on the edge of the city centre - the retail park off Moorfoot and St Mary’s Gate currently anchored by Mothercare and Staples. It will argue that the Next scheme adds up to an expansion of Meadowhall at a time when the city centre is “vulnerable”, compared with Meadowhall, “which is performing strongly”. Talks continue with Sevenstone developers Hammerson, while work on The Moor progresses in the hands of Scottish Widows Investment Property Trust.
Kerri Hunter, investment manager of SWIP, said this week: “We have objected to further out-of-town development ahead of current proposals to commit substantial investment into regenerating the city centre.
“We believe the regeneration of the city centre should come first to redress the balance between the in-town and out-of-town retail offer. This is in line with policies endorsed by both Sheffield City Council and the National Planning Policy Framework.”
British Land says neither Moorfoot or other locations in or near the city centre meet Next’s immediate needs.
It insists “there would be no significant adverse impact on the planned investment in Sheffield city centre at Sevenstone and The Moor,” maintaining that the Next Home and Garden store would complement the city centre.
In fact, the inquiry will be told that Next is keen to seen Sevenstone materialise because it provides “an ideal opportunity” to open a 40,000 sq ft fashion store in the city centre. The store in the east end would sell furniture, bathroom equipment, kitchenware, DIY goods, beds and fabrics along with outdoor furniture and equipment - not fashion goods. The council says this is one of the problems - one of the few strengths of the city centre at the moment is its diverse range of homeware, it argues.
As well as the store, the application covers a BMW and Mini car dealership and a drive-through Costa Coffee.
The inquiry verdict is due in about a couple of months.